Posted: 03/11/2009


Little Dorrit

by Del Harvey

Airing March 29 - April 26 on PBS Masterpiece Classic

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Masterpiece Classic has emerged as one of the finest producers of films on television. The quality of their adaptations is a rare cut above those of even most films new to the cinema. And that quality begins with the script adaptation and continues on through every aspect of production. The direction and acting are in sync like so few major motion pictures are, these days. And of the numerous original Masterpiece Classic productions originating from the BBC, one of the best is the upcoming adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic tale of love and mystery, Little Dorrit.

Amy Dorrit’s (Claire Foy) gentle spirit has never been dampened by the confining walls of the Marshalsea Prison she’s lived in her whole life. Despite the dark shadow of debtor’s prison, Amy lovingly cares for her father William Dorrit (Tom Courtenay), the longest serving inmate.

A possibly redemptive light unexpectedly shines in the form of Arthur Clennam (Matthew Macfadyen), who has been left with the intriguing threads of a mystery after his father’s death — threads that will intertwine his family and fate with the Dorrits. Clennam’s exhaustive search for answers involves murder, fortunes gained and lost, the upper echelons and lowest dregs of society, and most surprising of all, a tender romance. Adapted by Andrew Davies (Bleak House, Pride and Prejudice), Little Dorrit, based on the book by Charles Dickens, is a sprawling story as timely as it is moving.

This production is delightfully enlivened by some of the best performances you are likely to see in a film this year. There is the great Tom Courtenay as the bravely unloveable, self-indulgent, vain and brutally snobbish Mr Dorrit, Amy’s father. And equally self-effacing is Miss Judy Parfitt as the dragon-like Mrs Clennam, a mother whose duty seems first and foremost to shun the natural love of her son, Arthur. Appearing as the embodiment of mischief and true darkness is Andy Serkis as Riggaud, a villain of Shakespearean proportions, the kind of shadow children and normal men fear most in the night. And there is the simply amazing Eddie Marsan as a snorting pit-bull of a man named Pancks, a brusque, in-your-face sort who somehow manages to retain his honest nature and even win your heart. And there is tall and stalwart Matthew Macfadyen as Arthur Clennam, a rock amid the storms swirling all around. Macfadyen’s role could easily have been somewhat mundane, but he somehow manages to convey Arthur’s saintly, solid reliability without ever making it tedious.

And in the forefront of it all is Claire Foy as Little Amy Dorrit, kind, gentle, generous, and good in the face of unrelenting misery and disaster. She is as true to her nature and as good as so many around her are evil, and her light is a beacon of hope for anyone less fortunate. Although it is hard to imagine anyone being less fortunate than a child born in debtor’s prison.

Little Dorrit, like the recently aired Oliver Twist, is an exceptional take on a classic tale, a delightful and mesmerizing performance which I urge you to see. I believe you will enjoy it as much as did I.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.

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